Friday, 28 April 2006

Pillow talk and (im)possible dreams in a house divided

“Ya, it would be good for T to play for a team in Malaysia,” I announced, as if to myself. It was nearly 12 midnight. My pillowmate, quite accustomed to my out of topic and out of context ramblings, especially at this time of the night, just managed a ‘huh’without even looking up from his book.

“Ya, it’d be really good to be able to fix him up with some team – a kind of Malaysia – home and abroad thing,”

“Hmm”, another flick of a page and still no register of interest.

“He should play for Kedah, they’ve got a good....,”

“What? No, he should play for Terengganu! They are better”.

“Better? What if he doesn’t understand them? What would he make of, “Ha, mung pah pah bola tu molek-molek!”?

That made him sit up. When he put the book down, I knew he was ready for this interstate war of the Wans.

“And what made you think he can understand Kedahspeak – “Hang main baik baik, jangan lok lak, jangan dok tertomoih!”

And it went on and on and on....all because T came back with another trophy from the three aside tournament recently. He scored most of the goals and was quite proud of it too. Recently he played with a team of Malaysians in Regents Park and the captain of the other team had already spoken to me about the possibility of T joining him. Aaaah, I can now retire while my T shoots in the goals and rakes in the money! Sven, or is it Scolari, we are waiting for you!

The atmostphere in the Wan household in this part of west London has lately been one that is tense and full of suspense. At this moment, it is not only a house divided -Kedah vs Terengganu- but also Arsenal vs Barcelona. We are heading for a big bloody bust up when these two teams play in Paris on May 17 in the Champions League. We will be ready with mop and bucket, plaster and bandage as T and his older brother H fight it out in our front room.

When Barcelona won recently, confirming their place with Arsenal, H was already gleefully wringing his hands and salivating at the thoughts of the Gunners making a meal out of Barcelona.

T, a Barcelona fan has been quietly dreading this moment. He watched Arsenal sail through to the finals and is now preparing for the worse.

“But they scored rubbish goals, Mama,” he said to me when his brother wasn’t around. I suspect, he said this to reinforce his confidence in the team he has been supporting since he turned his back on Arsenal at the tender age of seven.

H, on the other hand has been a die hard Arsenal fan since he was five. As parents who know nought about football, we learn to cope with the stress, joy and tears everytime Arsenal wins or loses. We sigh with relief when Arsenal wins cos it means H bounding in through the front door and leaping with joy. But, you wouldn’t want to know when Arsenal loses. It is not a pretty sight when a grown-up man cries.

But what do we as parents do? Parents who know nought about football? My husband once tried to console his eldest when Arsenal lost by asking him to change his team. “Daddy, I’ve been supporting Arsenal since I was five!” he said, the hurt obvious in his voice, the pain so plain on his face at the very thought of shifting loyalty. He has every Arsenal jersey that comes on the market and that must have cost us a fortune. He has even queued up in the rain to meet Ian Wright. He was even featured in the sports page of The Independant when Arsenal hailed Arsene Wenger as their manager, and Daddy wants him to change teams????

Personally, I dread the seventeenth of May. Somehow it has a familiar ring to thirteenth of May. Bloodshed no matter what happens. I worry not just for the two brothers on opposite sides but also for us non-football fans parents caught right in the middle.

In the meantime, I am making my move, navigating my way to achieve my goal in the Kedah vs Terengganu game.....

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(In the meantime too, we are not sharing pillows!)

Wednesday, 19 April 2006

A Necessary Evil

I came back yesterday to a house buzzing with news that R was mugged. She was on the way home when she received a text message. She stopped to check her message and before she could read it, the phone was snatched from her hand by a hooded teenager on a bike. My R is not one to be messed around with. She gave chase and even challenged the guy to a fight. Failing that she called the police. She was fuming, but I am just glad that she is alright.

Last week, I wrote the article below which was published in our local newspaper. What happened to R yesterday just goes to show how dangerous it is to be carrying a mobile phone.

"Like most parents I was under the false impression that giving mobile phones to the children was a way to ensure their safety; that they could call in the hopefully unlikely event of a problem. But sadly, the very gadget that is supposed to reassure both parents and children alike, is now increasingly becoming the source of the problem. Almost daily we hear of children being mugged and assaulted while they answer or make phone calls on their way home from school.

My own son was accosted as he walked home from school, by a boy not much older than him. He was asked to surrender his phone but luckily, he stood his grounds and challenged the budding mugger to take it off him. It wasn’t as if he exhibited it for all to see. His sister was less lucky. She answered my phone call as she got off the bus and within minutes it was already in the hands of a teenager who cycled passed her and snatched the phone away. Both incidents left me shaken for I now have to think twice before calling them up to ask them whether they are okay. Just answering a call will attract attention, and certainly trouble.

Mr Patel, our newsagent down the road, reported the latest tragedy in our small town that is fast becoming not a very safe place to live in. A young girl walking to the tube station was kicked and punched by four boys on bicycles. Needless to say, they were just after her phone. By the time Mr Patel got to her, she could hardly stand.

With mobile phones getting fancier and more sophisticated with cameras and video recording devices, they are very much in demand, especially by those who can’t afford them but would like to own them. The mischief and crime related to phone cameras and phone videos have spiralled beyond belief. This includes a sickening fad called happy slapping, the ritual of sadistic members of youth cults whose idea of entertainment is inflicting pain. A victim is slapped, sometimes using the phone as a weapon and then filmed as he or she is continuously assaulted and attacked. This footage is then circulated among members of the group as a source of entertainment.

Quite recently, a happy slap gang, headed by a fifteen year old girl was convicted of manslaughter when they were found guilty of killing a 37 year old man they randomly picked to star in their sordid production.

The girl told members of her gang that she was making a documentary on happy slapping and after a night of drinking, they picked their victim, punched and kicked him while the whole sordid attack was being filmed. They left the victim to die while they went home to watch the recording on the mobile phone.

A 14 year old schoolboy was arrested when staff saw mobile phone footage of a rape attack on an eleven year old girl. And there are many more sickening attacks in what is fast becoming the cult’s own reality TV show. And this trend is spreading across Europe with chilling similarities in what has become a thirst for inflicting pain for entertainment. And all these by the very young members of the community.
Walking home from work yesterday, my youngest after a lot of deliberation phoned to warn me that a group of boys had been seen roaming the place. I could detect the worry in his voice. While he wanted me to go on speaking to him and reassure him that I was alright, he knew that the very sight of the phone would bring the gang straight over to me.

It is certainly not a happy situation but the mobile phone has become an evil necessity."

Friday, 14 April 2006

And I was there , too

We were all there together after the wedding. Right there in the living room where we usually congregate – before meals, during meals and after meals. The kids were running around as usual, some people were still at the table, with their seconds or probably thirds. And there’s the usual banter. I was there. I am positive of that.

I had missed the wedding. But I heard about the tears of joy at the mosque during the akad. Within hours, I saw the pictures – all one hundred and something of them. We shared them through YM and Am sent me a link to his online photo album. And I could see what I missed. I could see the fun and joy reflected on the faces of my sisters and brothers and nieces and nephews. Close cousins came all the way from Bukit Pinang to help carry the hantaran. I felt a certain kind of sadness as I hate missing family occassions such as this but such is life when you choose to be away.

And then, some bright spark came up with the bright idea. Why not use the webcam when they were all gathering later for dinner later that night? Hmmm, why not? And so, that was how I got to be there at the family gathering that night. Thanks to the internet and technology!

After the initial problems of not getting the picture and sound quality right, adjusting myself right into the frame, we webcammed!!!! The children fought to be in front of the camera, and there were times only certain parts of someone’s body strayed into the screen, the occassional shot of someone's nostrils and the constant.. . “Dengark dak? dengark dak? Dia tak dengark kut!” On my side, children too fought to be seen, husband held his cats to the camera...what a scene!

At one point, little Hilman pushed his way to the front and said,”Mak Teh nyanyi, Mak Teh! Nyanyi lagu Siti!”

Now, my little nephews think the world of me and if you were to tell them that their Mak Teh can’t walk on water, they’d probably beat you up. So, I struggled with some verses of Siti’s but admitted defeat and offered Alleycats’ “Hingga Akhir Nanti” instead as I am more than familiar with that one. So there I was in the middle of the afternoon in springtime London belting away the song to my little fans some thousands of miles away. Aaaah, such is techology! I had to do this or I won’t have any peace when speaking to my Mak. The first time we tried to webcam with Mak, Mak wasn’t well and I really wanted to see Mak for myself to see the extent of her condition. They set up the internet connection and the webcam, and carried Mak upstairs.

I was nervous ‘cos I wasn’t really ready to see Mak in that condition. But suddenly the frame went blank. Apparently little Nasri had pulled out the plugs! Hmmm

This time, I saw Mak doing the slow walk to the computer, unaided! Alhamdulillah. I felt my chest tightening and worried about how my voice would sound.I wanted to be as cheerful as possible! And she finally sat there, chatting to me as she usually does, while folding the clothes from the washing line. There was still the annoying delay, but this was the best technology could offer and I was thankful for that. She could hear me on the speaker. Telephone conversations are now impossible as she is going a little hard of hearing.
I was there Posted by Picasa

And then out of the blue, she got up and unsteadily came straight to the screen and so, so close to the camera that I could see her tired eyes and all the wrinkles on her face. I had missed not looking after her and the feeling of guilt took over. I just had to close my eyes and try to stem the flow of hot tears down the cheeks. I could hear her calling out my name, as she usually did to wake me up for revision during exams or for morning prayers. When I opened them I realised that she had reached out to touch my face on the screen, not quite believing that I was not there, with them. So near and yet so far.

So, that was how I got to be there with them that night, the night of the wedding. I even got to speak to my new sister in law and got to see Abang’s endless smiles. And I got to see that look on Mak’s face – the look that says everything when she knew all her children were there with her. Even if it was for a little while.

Friday, 7 April 2006

Of weddings and pantuns...

After last week’s busy schedule, I am feeling a trifle melancholic and just this minute, the reality set in. Last Sunday, in between the April showers and bursts of sunshine, a normally not so busy street in west London came alive with the beating of the kompang by a group of young Malay boys in colourful baju Melayu accompanying the groom along the short walk to the hotel. Inside, the bride was already waiting on the pelamin, and the guests ready seated waiting for the bersanding. I was unnecessarily nervous. I had rehearsed the pantuns several times and when given the cue that the groom and his party were already coming down the stairs, my heart was beating in rythm with the kompang, and even louder! This was my debut as the mak cik kepo, assigned to obstruct the advancing party with pantuns before they were allowed in. It was all in good fun, and I had never even witnesed this in real life. I don’t even know whether in Malaysia this is still done. But here in London, whenever we had a wedding, we tried to make it as traditional as possible, kompangs, pantuns, silat, tarian asyik, majlis merenjis and even the joget lambak. Anything at all to remind us of our roots and at the same time to give our children, a glimpse of our tradition.

It is during occassions like this that we see the Malay community coming together – everyone with an expertise in anything at all will chip in. A group of friends stayed till the wee hours of the morning doing the pelamin, some did the sirih junjung and hantaran, while others prepared the bunga manggar. Although Mak was an expert in all of these, I never inherited any of her skills, so I stuck to what I do best – pantuns and emceeing!

My own wedding was a very modest affair. No silat, no pantuns, not even a pelamin. Just two cushions from Abang’s sofa that was placed on the floor. We sat there facing each other and for the first time, as a wife, I kissed his hands. He, in return, took my hand and held it high in the manner of a boxing champion, causing a lot of laughter, even among the sternest of aunts in the crowd. And that was twenty six years ago, in Abang’s lounge in Bangsar.

Tomorrow, Abang will go through this ceremony again. His second in his lifetime after Kak Piah left him last year. Tomorrow, he will be a husband again and he will have a wife by his side. He had had so many good years with Kak Piah and spent almost everyday of Kak Piah’s last year by her bedside as he watched her succumb to cancer. Kak Piah’s family had been instrumental in searching for someone to bring that smile to his face again. And tomorrow is the the day. And I wont be there. I wont be there to watch the chaos and kelamkabutness in Sungai Merab as Kak Cik delegates everyone around her. I won’t be there to see Abang with his endless smiles or the look of happiness on Mak’s face as she sees her eldest son beaming with joy again. I wont be there to banter with Ajie or Lilah and Kak. I will miss all these. I have been so involved in other people’s weddings – people who have become my family here – but I will miss my own brother’s wedding. I promise, I will be there in spirit!
Pantun untuk Abang
Bunga mawar di atas batu,
Bau semerbak dicium selalu,
Walaupun jauh beribu batu,
Kebahagian Abang adik doakan selalu.
Nasi minyak terlepas lagi,
Simpanlah sikit di dalam peti,
Dengar kata Abang sengeh nampak gigi,
Maklumlah dah jumpa yang berkenan di hati.

Wednesday, 5 April 2006

What a week!

Tuesday would have been perfect to start the week as it held exciting promises but as it happened, I had to drag myself out that Monday to do the most daunting task ever – a fifteen minute presentation while being filmed. But let me tell you about Tuesday. Work went about as normal but I had a lunch appointment with the BIG BOSS who was in town. Its the first time I met him since he took over the company and I must say he is a pleasant man, but throughout lunch, my mind was straying to what the evening held in store. A group of us girls, er well, some very matured girls, had planned an all girls night out to celebrate the marriage of a friend. So, in our finest bling blings, we trooped off to a Lebanese restaurant, Maroush, where there was a belly dancer. Suffice to say, the mak ciks in attendance of the bride to be, spilled out of the restaurant on to Edgware Road, at about midnight nursing some very aching joints.

Wednesday, well Wednesday 29th was circled in red in my diary – five o’clock to be exact – Brunei Gallery, SOAS. The speaker for the annual dinner was no stranger to anyone, nor the circumstances which cost him his political career. The last time I saw Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim was when I went to cover his visit to Dublin – he as Deputy Prime Minister. Six years behind bars and he is still a crowd puller – especially now that he is on the other side of the political fence.

Thursday was spent preparing for an exhibition. A colleague had this crazy idea that everyone who had anything in print must exhibit their products. So I looked back to see what I had done that I could display in the corner that was reserved for me. Well, there was my fortnightly column ‘London Buzz’ that I started in 2000 and ended when I did my MA. That needed some airing. And all those features and articles for the various newspapers. Compiling them made me feel so nostalgic all of a sudden. All those interesting people that I met during the course of work, all those stories behind the scenes: the brothers who cycled around the world, the couple who made a similar feat at a ripe old age in their 4WD, the brave Siamese twins joined at the hips who were later successfully operated on, the mother who donated part of her liver to save her daughter’s life, tha anguish of the genious Sufiah who later ran away in search of her lost childhood, Malik Mydin’s conquest of the English Channel....and many, many more. All these came back to me as I labelled them carefully, thinking how these experience by just meeting them had enriched my life.

Then there are the features and documentaries that I did for television. The most memorable was a documentary of the above mother who gave part of her liver to her daughter. What a sacrifice. The other was Warisan Warkah Melayu – the story behind the tradition of Malay letter writing. I learnt so much from this experience that it is possible to say, I keep looking back at our roots ever since. It was amazing to see old manuscripts and documents penned by people like Raffles to our sultans and from our sultans to the British or the Dutch. I went to Holland to look at old manuscripts and in Germany I filmed and documented the most beautiful Malay letter, dated 1821 from the Sultan of Terengganu to Baron Van de Capellan – the Dutch Governor General. What fun it was then when I still had the energy to run around and be involved in all these productions. There’s the book published by Routledge, then another that I translated – Legacy of the Malay Letter (which inspired the above documentary) . I also had some very enjoyable moments when I edited and voiced works for children for Linguaphone and Dorling Kindersley. It had taken this one small exhibition to realise that yes, perhaps I had done something in my life – something I can leave behind for my children and grandchildren to see. Then there’s of course the which a dear friend reproduced on CD and that I must say received quite a bit of attention.

Anyway, Friday was supposed to be THE Friday that I had been waiting for – that would usher in a weekend like no other for me and my beloved. But of course, things had to happen. At the very last minute, I was assigned to write something for the Sunday paper, which I duly did and sent off at about 6.30 London time. With my bag packed for the weekend, all I needed was to wait for my date at Paddington Station.

It was almost like our first date together. I was nervous and full of apprehensions. But all for the wrong reasons. What if the children forgot to feed the cats? What if some one came back late? What if, what if?.....

When I saw him in the crowd, with the weekend bag, carelessly slung over his shoulder, all worries disappeared and I was determined to make this a wonderful weekend together – courtesy of Sayang Mama Number One. We arrived at a very deserted station in Pangbourne at about 9.30 pm, walked to the hotel – a beautiful mock tudor building which in the moonlight looked a very romantic setting indeed. We settled down for dinner which was a bit disappointing but that didn’t spoil the evening. Something else did.
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The wall was paper thin – the goings on from the next room went on until about 2am. Aparently there was a hen night. I was more forgiving because I understand – remember Maroush? And by the time the noise died down, there was a ring! ring ! from my handphone. The sms simply said – “Story not in, pls resend! “ That was my editor. Thus started what must have been a scene from a sitcom. With no internet facilities in the room, a bad phone connection, I tried dictating my piece down the line. After several times being disconnected, we abandoned the plan and I decided to text the whole article until my fingers ached. Then, I got a brilliant idea – by which time it was 4 am and I decided to wake Sayang Mama Number One in London. The excuse was to wake him up for subuh and,” By the way, can u access my email and resend this story to KL office?” Suffice to say, he wasn't amused, but he wasn’t going to ruin what’s left of our weekend that he paid for.

Daylight revealed a delightful surprise. If Pangbourne station was any indication of what Pangbourne is, then it was quite deceptive. The Bentley garage just outside the station should have given us a clue. So was the housing estate displaying pictures of houses at jaw dropping prices. Anyway, after breakfast (what a difference it made having breakfast without six cats fighting for his attention!) we asked the receptionist about interesting places to see in Pangbourne. That drew a blank look ...there’s the walk along the Thames, and there’s the walk along the Thames. Ya, we will give that a try.
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Pangbourne is a quaint little town with big expensive houses with driveways that say NO Entry – Private Property, properties that start from the main road and end with the Thames water lapping up the foot of the garden. An indication of what people here do for recreation – early Saturday morning, the road was already busy with cars with horse trailers. Every other car was transporting horses to a horse show. Over the bridge with a very good view of a very swollen Thames, we could see canoers navigating their way down the river. We walked down a small straight road going to don’t know where but was delightfully surprise to see a small toll house from the days of George III – every perfon (for that was the spelling!) must pay half a shilling while for every aff (ass) it was two shillings! Pangbourne is a kind of place, where people still say hello and good morning as you walk past them.

We then found ourselves in a very old cemetery and a very old church, again with another small pathway leading to the banks of the Thames. It was indeed a long walk and we took pictures and watch the ducks – it had indeed been a while since we had sometime to ourselves like this.
Just the two of us Posted by Picasa

But that was all Pangbourne could offer and we took the train to Reading and headed straight into the Raj for some naans and briani. It was already summer in Reading with music in the air and people spilling on to the pavement at the Oracle. And of course a Malay must seek out another Malay and we made a phone call to atok and family. It was always nice to catch up with them. I love his children – so talented and so adorable.
The Raj Posted by Picasa

The last night in Pangbourne was spent composing pantuns - hmm – pantuns in Pangbourne! and reciting them down the line to a friend in London. This was in preparation for the wedding that was to take place at Holiday Villa. I was looking forward to this – obstructing the party from the groom’s side with pantuns of sorts before he could join the bride on the dias. As I was also to be the emcee, more scribblings throughout the night. It was after breakfast that we said goodbye to Pangbourne, back to London for the wedding and suffice to say, fun was had by all!